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It’s rare for a campaign to attract the kind of hostility that Diet Coke’s “Because I Can” ads have received in the marketing press, at least without making a grisly political faux pas. With publications and experts lining up to slam the ads as “lazy”, “flat”, “joyless” and more, the spots have clearly hit a nerve.

Maybe it’s because the ads are so starkly simple that they feel like a kind of anti-marketing: a straight to-camera speech, can in hand, about how Diet Coke is good and if you want one you should have one. All the excessive creativity and imagination seems to have gone the way of the sugar and calories.

The ads accompany a rebrand and new flavour range which has done well in early sales for Coca-Cola. How much of a role did the plain-spoken ads play? If the ads helped drive growth, that would be a win for marketers who believe that young consumers want simplicity and authenticity, not artifice.

System1 Ad Ratings can tell us what’s happening. And the news for Diet Coke isn’t great. All the ads to air in the UK scored 1-Star, meaning they’re predicted to drive no profitable growth. The no-frills style has translated into a no-feeling experience for viewers.

Some of the criticism of the ads has centered on the way they are straight remakes of the brand’s US campaign, created by Anomaly and an in-house team. American Coke spots have a long tradition of happy young people and these yurt-loving Millennials fit that bill. Did the work suffer in its trip across the Atlantic? We can look at its Ad Ratings scores in the US to find out.

“Because I Can” does do a little better back home. But only a little. One ad scrapes into the 2-Star, modest growth category. The others remain 1-Star.

So why has Diet Coke performed well? Most high spend campaigns can drive short term sales to an extent just by increasing Fame, or mental availability. In the US, the repackaging and emphasis on new flavours positions Diet Coke away from its parent brand and closer to challengers like sparkling water brand La Croix (which doesn’t use traditional advertising). That may have helped it win back some attention too.

In the UK, though, it’s Coke’s other big sugar-free brand that’s made ads with growth potential. And they are about as far away from the “Millennial demographic” as you can get. Coke Zero Sugar’s “Mr Hadley” ad stars a retirement home inmate whose first taste of the brand gives him a new lease on life. Charming with a poignant undertow, these ads are a sequel of sorts to Coke’s fondly remembered “First Taste” 2006 Campaign. The 2018 version won a strong 3-Star score in Ad Ratings. For audiences, artifice and entertainment win again.

Find out which of your ads are diriving long-term growth. Sign up for Ad Ratings HERE

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